Steptember

We like a challenge, my wife and I. Once we were vegetarian for a year, and I won’t tell you what we attempted in March 2015. In September 2016, we attempted to walk, between us, for a million steps. Spoiler alert: We didn’t make it. But we came really close.

A million sounds like a lot of steps, but it’s “only” 16,666 each per day. Kate’s target is 12,000 a day and I normally do about 14,000, so it certainly seemed within reach, whilst also being enough of a challenge to be, well, a challenge.

Our strategy was fairly simple – do our normal daily routine, and attempt to get extra walking in on top, like running errands at lunchtime, or dragging the children out for walks after dinner even more often than usual. We would try to avoid late night emergency  pointless walks just to make up the numbers.

Technology

Kate tracked her steps with a  Fitbit, I used the Pedometer++ app in conjunction with my iPhone and Apple Watch. The app uses intelligent merging to get you the most accurate step count – for example, when pushing a pushchair, it can tell that the watch isn’t the best place to record steps from. We tracked the total steps on a spreadsheet.

Challenges

Like a lot of things that a lot of parents try to do, our kids represented quite an obstacle, particularly the youngest, who is quite capable of walking, but not particularly interested in walking in a specific direction for any amount of time. A 45 minute after-dinner walk ends up covering about a mile, most of which is spent not clocking up any steps at all, but rather standing there going “come on! Stop kissing lampposts!”

The second thing that always gets in your way is work. Kate drops our daughter at nursery and walks to work, which doesn’t use as many steps as we thought it would. And by the time she gets home and we’ve eaten, it’s often too late to be thinking about going out again. It was a lot easier for me to get my steps in, since I usually walk to and from school twice with our older daughter, and I work at a standing desk and frequently wander about the house, thinking.

I managed to get an infected cut in my foot after a rock pooling session, which made walking very painful for a few days. Any days involving travel tended to have poor results, and we travelled a fair bit that month as well.

Rainy weekends meant that it was very hard to get out and walk. Our worst weekend clocked just 39,000 steps, our best 91,000.

The hardest part was probably the demoralising aspect of falling behind the pace – a sub-target day on an already challenging schedule meant that the goal looked ever more unreachable. The lowest ebb was exactly half-way through the month, where we were 61,000 steps behind.

Benefits

The extra exercise felt good, and it was interesting to actually pay attention to the data that these devices are recording all the time. In August I was averaging 500 active calories per day according to my watch, in September it was closer to 700.

I found it quite motivating as well to have a target to aim for. I’d cut down on my running since having some leg pain but I’d decided through experimentation that the pain was related to terrible mobility and posture when doing things like wrestling the kids into their clothes or lifting them into their car seats, so I forced myself to be more conscious of that and got out running again – obviously the best way to get a lot of steps in in a short time!

The other clear benefit was highlighting teamwork, and the benefits of doing things together. If one of us walks to the shop, thats, say, 2,000 steps. If we both go, not only do we get to have a nice walk together, we also double the step count.

The numbers

  • 973,607 total steps.
  • 16,223  average steps per person per day – only 110 steps each extra per day would have done it!
  • I did 541,200 steps, that’s an average of 18,040 per day.
  • Kate did 432,407 steps, that’s an average of 14,414 per day.
  • My highest and lowest counts were 28,804 and 9,213
  • Kate’s highest and lowest counts were 22,551 and 6,422.
  • Our highest counts weren’t on the same day, but we both did pretty well on my highest day – that was Kate’s second highest day, at 22,273. According to my diary we  rearranged the furniture in the living room that day, rock and roll.
  • Our lowest counts were on the same day, a particularly rainy Sunday, which came really early in the month and put us behind quite badly.
  • There was no discernible pattern in specific days of the week being more or less “steppy”, which surprised me.

Here’s a graph if you like that sort of thing:

chart

As you can see, we came tantalisingly close. But I was not prepared to hit the streets at 10pm on a Friday night to get that last 27,000 steps in (and I couldn’t have done that without speed-walking for hours anyway!). Maybe we’ll try it again next year, but call it “Walktober” and give ourselves an extra day.

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